When the French agencies AFP and France Bleu released the news that René Metge had died, the organizers of the Dakar Rally were quick to issue an obituary. Not to either. This guy not only raced successfully in the Dakar, but also successfully led it. When the competition moved to South America, he founded a rival business, the Africa Eco Race, which continues to be run in Africa.
He was born in Montrouge, a suburb of Paris, on October 23, 1941. Fans of circuit racing know him mainly from Le Mans, where his best result was fifth place, many associate him with the development of the Porsche 959, but for long-distance rally fans he will forever be the first driver, who managed to win the Dakar three times.
Metge took his first victory in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1981 behind the wheel of a Range Rover. He started for the first time two years earlier, in the first year in 1979, but did not finish. Legend has it that he had such an argument with his passenger that he got out of the car in the middle of the Sahara, stopped the car in which the medics were riding and drove with them to the finish line of the competition at the Pink Lake. A year later he was piloting a truck, only to return to the wheel of a Range Rover for the next three seasons.
He definitely succeeded only in 1981, when he won the competition with his navigator Bernard Giroux. He didn’t finish the next two years, but then came an offer from Porsche and two memorable victories in 1984 and 1986. The first time was in a Porsche 953, which was a revised version of the 911 model. At that time, 313 competitors stood at the start of the competition, with an almost ten thousand kilometer long 98 completed the race. That year, the rally route was extended through Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mauritania to “strengthen the dreams of those left behind”. However, being left behind was not Metge’s dream.
He did it two years later, this time in the iconic 959, when together with Jacky Ickx they won a historic double for Porsche.
His victory at Le Mans five months later made him one of the few drivers to win both endurance events in the same year.
In 1987, following the death of competition founder Thierry Sabine, Metge was appointed director of the Dakar Rally and served in this position for two years. When the Dakar deviated from its original route and moved to South America in 2008, he teamed up with two-time winner Jean-Louis Schlesser and a year later they founded the Africa Eco Race, which continues in the footsteps of the original competition on the African continent.
He also organized the Paris-Moscow-Beijing Rally in 1992, Paris – Saint Petersburg – Beijing in 2008, as well as snowmobile races in Canada.
“René was more than just a competitor, he was a partner, a brother to me,” said Schlesser in an interview with the Africa Eco Race website. “I helped him in his first races and he came to help me when we started racing in Africa. I want to pay him a big tribute because he won the biggest races, he was an exceptional pilot and an exceptionally kind person. He had a heart of gold, he was always ready to help. I remember one time he came up to me in the Paris-Dakar race and said: ‘Louis, can I borrow a recovery car to help a rival with a broken axle in the dunes? If we don’t get them out, it’s the end of them.’ And that’s how he’s always been.’
And one more gem… René Metge sat behind the wheel for the first time when he was seven years old, driving his father’s Bugatti. He raced not only with Porsche and Range Rover, but also with BMW, Mini Cooper, Triumph and Rover, he also tried his luck behind the wheel of a single-seater.
Rest in peace Mr. Metge.